Preached: April 14, 2013

Stand Strong with the Lord
Joshua 1:1, 6-9

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Joshua 1:1, 6-9. The last part is the verse you chose as your confirmation verse, Cody.

After the death of Moses, the LORD's servant, the LORD said to Joshua, Nun's son, who had been Moses' aide, “Be strong and courageous, for you will lead these people to inherit the land that I swore to their ancestors to give to them. Be very strong and exceedingly courageous to guard and do all the Law which Moses, my servant, commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right or the left so that you prosper wherever you go. Do not stop reading aloud this Law. Meditate on it day and night so that you guard and do all that's written in it, since then you will succeed in your ways and prosper. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified or dismayed. For the LORD, your God, is with you, wherever you go. (Joshua 1:1, 6-9).

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

Joshua was no longer a young man when the Lord called him to lead Israel into the promised land. Think about it. Forty years earlier, Joshua had already been old enough to be placed in command of Israel's army when they had fought the Amalekites after the Lord had brought them out of Egypt. Now as they prepare to cross the Jordan River and march around the walls of Jericho, Joshua must be well past sixty, maybe around eighty years old.

But what a change in life he was stepping into! Moses was dead. For forty years Moses had led the people. He was the only leader they knew. Look at what the Lord had done through Moses: The plagues in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, manna appearing on the ground six days a week, the giving of the Law at Mt. Sinai. The Lord had spoken to Moses face to face in the cloud. Who could replace Moses, no matter how mature and experienced he was?

Now, the doubt, uncertainty, fear, and apprehension that Joshua may have felt can strike us at any age, especially when entering a new time in life as Joshua was. Cody, your confirmation marks one of those times. You are becoming a communicate member of this congregation. You are taking on yourself more responsibility for your own spiritual care. You are promising to faithfully follow Jesus no matter what. As worried as you may have been about answering the examination questions today, that's just the beginning. Satan is going to keep on attacking you and trying to lead you away from Jesus.

So no matter how young or old you are, dear friends, take to heart the words the Lord spoke to Joshua. “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (Joshua 1:9 NIV84).

Yes, Cody, stand strong with the Lord. That's the theme to take to heart today. Stand strong with the Lord, filled with his word and filled with his courage.

A. Filled with his word

Before a game a coach gives his team a pep talk. “Be strong,” he might say. “Give it a 110%. Don't hold back. Take it to them. Be courageous. You get it in you. You can do it.” That's not what the Lord is doing here with Joshua, or with you and me, Cody. This is not a pep talk to pump you up.

Some of the words sound similar. The Lord says, “Be strong and courageous.” But notice why Joshua is to be strong and courageous. God does not say, “You can do it. You got it in you. Just find your inner strength and pull yourself up.” No. God points Joshua and us in the opposite direction for our strength and courage. “Be strong and courageous ... for the LORD your God will be with you” (Joshua 1:9 NIV84). That's whom our strength and courage depend on.

So, how does the Lord come to us and stay with us? How does he build up our strength and courage? You already heard the answer to that question in the verse right before your confirmation verse. Listen to verse 8 again. “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it” (Joshua 1:8 NIV84).

The Book of the Law points us to our Lord's written word, which today is the Bible. Through his word he comes to us and stays with us. Through his word he builds up our strength and courage. So Cody, stand strong with the Lord, filled with his word.

How are we filled with his word? Think about what verse said. Be filled with the word by not letting it depart from your mouth. In other words, don't leave your Bible as a closed book. Read it. Hear it. Speak it. In fact, the verse says meditate on it day and night. God's Word isn't just for emergency, but for every day use. Meditate on it, that is, think about it and ask yourself: What is God's saying in this passage? What is teaching me about my need for a Savior? How is he bringing me the Good News of forgiveness and eternal life in Jesus? What does he want me to believe, and to pray about, and to do? As you meditate on his word, put it into action -- not just the parts we like but all of it. Be careful to do everything written in it, the verse says. There's a double emphasis here. Don't leave any of his word out, and don't just have good intentions but actually do it. And what does it mean to do his word? It means both to believe all the Lord's promises and to obey all his commands. Faith isn't just something you learn back in Catechism class and then you're done. Faith is something you live each day of your life. Keep on filling yourself with God's Word.

And what does the word of God do for us, as it fills our hearts, minds, and actions? It confronts us with our sin, including the sin of thinking that we are strong and courageous because of our own inner strength. It exposes how often we've relied on ourselves instead of on God alone. It convicts you and me as weak, helpless sinners. And then, what a wonder! It shows you Jesus. He came to rescue weak, helpless, lost sinners, like you and me. He alone is Immanuel, God with us. He alone is strong to save. But human eyes would never see that, except that God's Word makes it known and through that word the Holy Spirit has opened your eyes to see. In the weakness of the cross, see your Savior crushing Satan's power. In the weakness of the cross, see God's anger turned away from you. In the weakness of the cross, see your sin paid for and heaven opened. So in the weakness of the cross is your strength and courage.

Stand strong with the Lord filled with his word, Cody. For his word alone brings you the strength of your Lord, Jesus Christ. And by his word you are filled with his courage.

B. Filled with his courage

Now we're not talking about the courage to shoot for the stars or the courage to pursue your dreams. The Lord hasn't promised us the stars or our dreams. Rather, Cody, this is the courage to follow Jesus, the courage to follow him no matter what others say or do, the courage to follow him no matter how hard life is or how bad we feel -- the courage to hold on to his promises and obey his commands.

Since we know how the Lord gave Joshua victory over Jericho by making the walls fall down, we might imagine, “If that kind of thing happened in my life, it would be easy to follow Jesus.” But let's think about the whole situation.

Joshua leads the people across the Jordan into enemy territory. They march around Jericho. Nothing happens. They do so the next day. Nothing happens. How long would you keep that up? Not until the seventh day did the walls fall down, just as the Lord had promised. And that's the first point, dear friends. Courage holds on to the Lord's promises, no matter how impossible they seem.

Secondly, do you remember what happened in the next battle after Jericho? It was just a little town called Ai. And Israel was defeated. Joshua felt devastated. He feel facedown to the ground before he ark of the Lord. He called out to the Lord in despair: “Why did you lead us across the Jordan? The rest of the people will hear of our defeat and come and wipe us out. What will you do for your great name?” In many ways Joshua had lost courage, yet he still turned to the Lord. So also, dear friends, courage that holds on to the Lord's promises turns to him when those promises appear to fail. In the face of defeat and despair, real courage keeps going back to the Lord and his word.

Thirdly and finally, the reason for the initial defeat at Ai was that one of the Israelites, a man by the name of Achan, had kept some stuff from Jericho rather than devoting it to the Lord as the Lord had commanded. What lesson about courage do we learn from that? In the battle of Jericho everything was going right, but Achan gave into greed. When things are going well for you and me, we need to the courage to keep on doing what is right, the courage to say no to sin and follow Jesus.

Stand strong with the Lord filled with his courage -- the courage that holds on to his promises no matter how impossible they seem, the courage that holds on to them no matter how bad life may feel, the courage that holds on to them rather than giving in to sin.

And so Cody, stand strong with the Lord. He is your God who has redeemed you to be his very own, who has ransomed you with his life blood. He is your God who has brought you into his family, reborn through Baptism. He is your God who tenderly speaks to you through his word of truth. He is your Savior-God. Stand strong with the Lord, filled with his word and filled with his courage. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313